January 16, 2012
CINDY WOODEN
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict condemned "religiously motivated terrorism" and restrictions on religious freedom during his annual address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican.

Looking both at signs of promise and areas of concern around the globe, the pope said human dignity, truth and justice demand governments safeguard all human life.

Those principles also call for governments to recognize the importance of the traditional family based on the marriage of a man and a woman, he said.

But his strongest words Jan. 9 were reserved for the topic of religious freedom and religiously motivated violence.

The pope paid tribute to Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic and government minister for minorities in Pakistan, "whose untiring battle for the rights of minorities ended in his tragic death" when he was murdered last March.

"Sadly, we are not speaking of an isolated case," he told the diplomats gathered in a formal, frescoed hall of the Apostolic Palace.

CHRISTIANS VIOLATED

In many countries, Christians are deprived of fundamental rights and sidelined from public life; in other countries they endure violent attacks against their churches and homes," the pope said.

"In other parts of the world," he said, "we see policies aimed at marginalizing the role of religion in the life of society, as if it were a cause of intolerance rather than a valued contribution to education in respect for human dignity, justice and peace."

Discussing the Arab Spring movements that toppled repressive governments in North Africa and spread to the Middle East, Pope Benedict said, "it is hard to make a definitive assessment" of those recent events.

However, "initial optimism has yielded to an acknowledgment of the difficulties of this moment of transition and change," he said.

The only way toward true democracy and peace "is through the recognition of the inalienable dignity of each human person and of his or her fundamental rights," the pope said.